Kansas’ Tallgrass Prairie Preserve: Glimpse of yesteryear

by Natalie DiBlasio
USA TODAY

David Maciewicz, 24, of Utica, N.Y., was struck by the “vast nothing” of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Strong City, Kan. when he visited last year

Maciewicz said he was in awe of the quiet.

“All you can hear is the breeze,” he recalls. “It’s miles and miles between towns and even farther from major roads.”

Tallgrass prairie once covered 170 million acres of North America. Today, less than 4 percent remains. Visitors can enjoy a large portion of the remainder at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.

“It’s strangely uniform, but beautiful,” Maciewicz said. “On a clear day you can see for hundreds of miles.”

Visitors come to hike 41 miles of trail, fish and see more than 700 plant, 300 bird and 80 mammal species.

“A lot of folks that visit are from urban areas and it’s the quietness and the peacefulness that they notice,” said Heather Brown, chief of interpretation at the preserve. “There is just so much wide open space and so much beauty.”

Thirteen bison were brought to the preserve in October 2009, the first time the onetime kings of the prairie had been on the property in more than 100 years. The first calf was born to the herd on Mother’s Day in May 2010.

Visitors can usually see one or more small herds by hopping on prairie bus tours or hiking select trails.

Preserve Superintendent Wendy Lauritzen said the tallgrasses can make it hard to spot everything, but she called it a blessing.

“You have to take your time,” she said. “It’s very relaxing for the soul. It makes you slow down and appreciate things.”

Wildflowers, covering the fields with blankets of color, peak in spring and again in fall. Tallgrasses reach heights of up to 10 feet by September.

“People have this perception of Kansas – it’s boring, it’s a fly-over state, it’s brown – but there are so many colors if you just stop and take a look,” said Richard Frankel, 50, of Derby, Kan.

About the preserve

Size: 10,894 acres

Visitors: 18,918 in 2012

Established: 1996

History: Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve was established in 1996. It is the only unit of the National Park System dedicated to the Tallgrass prairie ecosystem. It is owned by both the National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy.

When visiting: 2480B Kansas Highway 177, Strong City, Kan.

Visitor information: (620) 273-8494

Of note: Cattle can gain up to two pounds per day grazing on the prairie grasses on the preserve.

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